Maxine Knight, mother of rap mogul Suge Knight, leaned in close, as if to share a treasured secret. “Suge is my baby,” she said, beaming. “I’m very proud of him . . . though he is a little spoiled.”
We were sitting close to the stage at Suge Knight’s (Somewhat) Annual Death Row Records Single Mother’s Day Brunch, held in regal splendor at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Maxine is not single — her longtime husband (and Suge’s daddy), Marion, was by her side — but she never misses the brunch. And her son always gives her a spectacular gift after the show.
“He buys me anything I want,” she said. Sometimes it’s a car. One year it was the Chiclet-size diamonds in her ears. “I said since my son wears a big diamond, I want mine half the size of his. I never take them out, only to clean them.”
Maxine Knight pointed to her daughters — Suge’s older sisters — and their children, who were seated at the next table. And she said her newest grandchild, Bailey — Suge’s baby — was asleep upstairs. “We’re a lucky family,” she said. “We are blessed.” No mention of a Mrs. Suge Knight, though perhaps the child’s mother was mingling with the nearly 600 single moms and 300 children who found their way to the free brunch.
Dressed in their Sunday best, these women, whose lives consist of juggling work and kids with little money and less companionship, took advantage of the chance, just for a day, to play the part of ladies who lunch. Never mind the screeching children, beeping Gameboys and chirping cell phones. They scooted their chairs up to the white tablecloths, sipped champagne and relished the four-course menu that began with mushroom ravioli and ended with an apple tarte tatin in chocolate sauce.
How did they get word of the brunch? Robin heard about it from Nieche who heard about it from Dalasini who heard about it from Kaylene. Kaylene is a teacher at Creative Kids, an after-school program in Tarzana. She was invited to the brunch by one of the moms, Catrice.
“Oh, look,” Kaylene said, turning carefully so as not to spill her mimosa. “There’s Catrice now.” She pointed to an extremely thin woman in a white halter dress, clear-heeled princess sandals, diamond hoop earrings and a large diamond heart pendant. The word queen was tattooed in cursive around her left biceps.
“Don’t call me Catrice,” said Catrice, tipping her glass of champagne toward her mouth. “That’s my name but I don’t go by that. I go by my stage name, Virginya Slim. That’s with a ‘Y.’” She was talking fast, amped on bubbly and the energy of the event, which she helped coordinate. “I work as a receptionist, and I also do marketing and promotion,” she said. “I have a single too. On Dysfunktional Family. I sing with Crooked I. It’s called ‘Still Tha Row.’ I’m the assistant show coordinator and, I hate to say it, but I believe I get more out of this event than anyone here. I am a single mother myself, and I put so much into it that I go home with a utopia feeling.” She paused for the first time and looked at me, hard. “I’ve worked on this event all along, except when Mr. Knight was gone.”
Knight was “gone” for nearly five years, doing prison time for violating parole on an earlier assault conviction. That violation, caught on videotape, showed Knight and his number-one artist, Tupac Shakur, thumping a Crip in Las Vegas the night in 1996 that Shakur was later shot to death in a drive-by.
Shakur’s death marked the end of an era for Death Row — and for the Single Mother’s Day brunch. “Ninety-seven was our best year,” Slim said. “We had Tupac and Snoop and everybody here.” But those days — and the artists — are long gone. When Knight got out nearly two years ago, Tha Row, as it’s now called, was running on the fumes of Shakur’s posthumous releases. Since then, Knight has built up a stable of new talent, though he was sidetracked earlier this year by a two-month prison term for another parole violation. The label’s first release, the soundtrack to the movie Dysfunktional Family, remains true to the hardcore rap form that Knight first brought to many a suburban white boy’s bedroom 10 years ago, with cuts like “Who Wants To Fuck Tonight,” “We Ballin’” and “Tha’ Row (Y’all Hoes).”
But nary a “ho” was uttered from the stage on Sunday, as Suge and his rappers paid loving homage to their mothers, the (single) mothers of their children and to the mothers of everybody else’s children.
Suge appeared onstage, turned out in dark glasses, gold suit, white shirt and gold tie. His bald head and full beard made him look strangely Hasidic. “I’d like to thank God for all we do here,” he said. “And I’d like to take a little time out, everybody, to turn to their mother and say, ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’”
From the room, in unison, came a loud “Happy Mother’s Day!”
“Tell ’em you love ’em,” Suge said. “For single mothers, you got to really, really appreciate ’em. I want the kids to understand Mama’s doing the job of mommy and daddy — appreciate that.”
The rapper Eastwood nodded in agreement from the crowd. He was dressed all in white with an enormous electric-chair pendant — emblem of Tha Row — swinging from a leash-sized chain around his neck. He showed off his 10-month-old daughter, Imani, asleep in the arms of his child’s mother, which is how Eastwood introduced the woman. “Yes, she is a single mom,” he said, shrugging, as if the matter were entirely beyond his control. “They all independent, single mothers,” he said, taking in the whole room with a wave of his arm. “You got to respect that.”
Then the music began with an a cappella rendition of “Our Father” (an odd choice for Mother’s Day) followed by a polished performance by oldster George Duke that was abruptly cut off, Academy Awards–style. It was the first glimpse of Suge’s not-so-subtle stage managing, which became even more blatant moments later when he heckled Michael Blade, the leader of the backup band. Blade had paused to appreciate Duke’s performance and introduce himself and his band, which consisted of several horn players, a drummer and a rhythm guitarist. An unseen, microphoned voice cut in. “Stop talking and start playing.” Blade shut up.
Moments later Suge, flanked by several bodyguards, began working the room. Dozens of women and children pressed in. He smiled and hugged, smiled and hugged, navigating through the crowd by turning his impossibly broad shoulders first, like the mast of a ship. Sweat poured from his head. He swiped at it with his hand, then grabbed a napkin and wiped himself dry.
Back onstage he puffed defiantly on a cigar — hotel employees tsking from a distance — and observed as his rappers performed Mother’s Day–appropriate numbers.
Maxine Knight got up from her table and walked toward her son. Suge, looming over her from the stage, squatted down and wrapped her in a tight embrace.
The number-one rule of television writing is DO NOT DECORATE YOUR OFFICE. Don’t hang things on the walls. Don’t bring in books, tchotchkes, pictures of loved ones. You will only strain your back carrying them out to the car when you get canceled. And you will get canceled. Or fired.
So in the summer of 1999, when I was hired as a writer on the WB’s seminal teen drama Dawson’s Creek for the start of its third season, I tried my best to follow this rule. Somewhere around season five, though, my resistance began to falter. It wasn’t my fault really. No one told me what to do if you didn’t get canceled. Or fired.
Of course, everyone gets canceled eventually. This week the last-ever episode of Dawson’s Creek aired. And now I’m hoping that the kid in Canada some fan recently sent me an e-mail about — the one who stopped eating when he heard that Joey’s not going to end up with the guy he wants her to — well, I’m hoping that the kid goes to Dairy Queen. And then maybe after he’s gotten his strength back . . . if he’s up for a little vacation . . . he could come help me clean out my office.
What follows is a partial inventory of items that have mysteriously accrued to me during my four-year tenure on Dawson’s Creek:
• One XXL Hanes Heavyweight
50/50 cotton-poly-blend T-shirt sent to me jointly by two Web-based fan groups, operationdaisy.org and projectsoulmates.org. Although I would be hard-pressed to tell you their exact operating principles and/or doctrinal differences, both these groups seem to be devoted to the idea that the fictional characters Dawson (played by James Van Der Beek) and Joey (played by Katie Holmes) are soul mates who should be together now and for all eternity. But preferably now. The front of this T-shirt reads, “For those who believe in eternal love, no explanation is necessary . . . for those who do not, no explanation is possible.” The back lists the “Top 10 Reasons We Love Dawson & Joey” (Because they are magic, pure magic. Because loves ends. And begins again). This item is definitely a keeper: I find that when I wear it to the gym no one ever — ever — talks to me.
• One box of chocolates (unopened), one smallish white teddy bear, and one large white coffee mug sent to me in 2002 by projecthellmates.org — a Web-based fan group devoted to the idea that the fictional characters Dawson and Joey are not in fact soul mates and should never ever be together under any circumstances for any length of time. The chocolates remain unopened based on the theory that you really shouldn’t take candy from strangers who spend an inordinate amount of time on Internet sites talking about what a talentless hack you are.
• One key-chain-size E.T. doll with a crocheted daisy around its neck. These two items have been around so long I seem to have lost all recollection of where they came from. Did they arrive together or were they grouped together later for ease of display? No matter. Both were obviously sent by supporters of the Dawson-Joey love. Or — wait, what am I saying? Perhaps this is only obvious to people who understand the iconography of Dawson’s Creek — a portion of the world population I estimate to be somewhere around .0000000000000000000005 percent. The reason it’s obvious to me is that E.T. is the movie Joey and Dawson are watching in the opening frames of the Dawson’s Creek pilot (episode No. 100), and a single freshly plucked daisy was the gift Dawson brought to Joey on the occasion of their first date (episode No. 201). Other daisy-related items I have received include one Astroturf-covered bulletin board with daisy pushpins, which is quite flirty and stylish and may just have to come home with me, and multiple bouquets of real daisies — which are, of course, dead. Much like my heart after writing, co-writing and rewriting 30-some-odd episodes.
• Last but not least — my most recent acquisition — one short, rather oddly shaped pen engraved with my name and the words savetruelove.com. At the moment I’m too busy looking for a new job to have time to check out this Web site, but I am 100 percent certain it’s devoted to the idea that the fictional characters Joey and Pacey (played by Joshua Jackson) are soul mates who should be together now and for all eternity. But preferably now. How do I know this? Because the fictional character Pacey once owned a fictional sailboat called the True Love (first appearance: episode No. 304; ultimate sinking: episode No. 403). As for the pen itself, despite its odd shape, I plan to use it until the ink runs out and then entomb it at home in a special drawer I have reserved for pens I am too lazy to refill but too sentimental to throw away. The other pen currently in this category is the one I got in ninth grade for being president of the National Junior Honor Society. Now that I think about it, being a writer-producer on Dawson’s Creek probably wasn’t all that different from running the National Junior Honor Society. Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, harsh lessons learned. And neither was a job for all eternity.